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Yas Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Issue 52 Dec/Jan 2009/10 : Architectural : Facade

Lighting Design: ARUP LIGHTING Architect: ASYMPTOTE


Completed in time for the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix, Arup Lighting’s phenomenal LED gridshell enveloping the Yas Hotel is the largest LED project in the world. We spoke to Arup’s Brian Stacy about the dream that became reality in front of the world’s TV cameras.

Developed by Aldar Properties PJSC, the Yas Hotel is the first hotel operated by Aldar Hotels and Hospitality and one of seven hotels that opened on Yas Island for the 2009 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The first hotel to span an F1 race track, Yas Hotel has an extraordinary steel and glass gridshell structure that is draped in a vibrant shroud of approximately 5,000 custom made LEDs designed by Arup Lighting, where Brian Stacy from the New York office Project Directed and led the firm’s lighting design work.

The hotel features a 217-metre long, in plan, sweeping gridshell structure that incorporates a striking veil of steel and glass featuring programmed lighting and media sequences that fuse the two sections that span both the circuit and the marina. A bridge stretches between the main building and the Marina Tower, enclosing a bar and restaurant with executive level bridge that will house a rotating exhibition of contemporary artwork by Emirati and GCC artists.

Aldar Properties PJSC awarded Asymptote the commission to design the 85,000sqm complex from a closed competition two years ago. Asymptote founders and principals Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture have created an architectural landmark embodying inspirations ranging from the aesthetics and forms associated with speed, movement and spectacle to the artistry and geometries forming the basis of
ancient Islamic art and craft traditions.

Icons are created and dreamed about, then inspire. What Arup Lighting provided through their global resource and perspective, with a high level of visionary and technical prowess, was collaboration with Asymptote on their fast paced creation for what Aldar desired as their ‘Iconic Centrepiece’ to the $36 Billion Yas Island Development.

The conceptual work on the lighting to create an iconic experience was carried through from start to finish by a team of over 20 Arup designers and engineers.  Together they worked to set a course for the project to create an iconic, media centric vision to take advantage of the first F1 race which was run as it transitioned from day to night, and was televised to millions worldwide.

“From day one, there was an online clock counting down on the project’s website to raceday, about 20 months away,” comments Stacy. “This constant reminder meant we were always needing to think and design a few major steps ahead, which meant we always had at least a Plan B - or a high level of flexibility built in - to allow for the one constant on the project - change.”

Pulling inspiration from all aspects of the high performance F1 race cars are design responses fusing the natural and electric lighting with the evolution of the gridshell’s design, from concept to completion.  Motion, line and atmosphere were key response items explored from the start all the way along the process through to the final content development and on-site calibration right before Race Day. The fusion created a set of seven atmospheric scenes that create a dynamic, media driven façade component.

The hotel features an iconic curvilinear geometric gridshell of approximately 5,000 glass panels, which vary in size from about 450mm to approximately 3 metres in maximum dimension that drape the two towers. The towers straddle the Formula 1 race track which is connected by an iconic link bridge with a feature lounge that allow patrons to watch the race pass underneath them.

The glass panels of the gridshell structure feature a carefully selected coating and frit pattern that works to balance the visual transparency with light responsive properties to the different day and night time lighting conditions. The glass panels are each individually lit with a bespoke RGBW LED luminaire manufactured by Cooper Lighting which was designed to have an asymmetrical light distribution that is dependent on the size of the panels. The gridshell luminaires are individually controlled with an e:cue lighting control system.

The diamond-shaped glass panels are fixed at a rotated 30 degrees from the gridshell structure’s parallel axis for lighting and viability reasons. The heat issues on the LEDs and their drivers in the desert environment were mitigated by heavy heat sinks and by using DMX RDM to monitor the junction temperature of the chips. Real-time feedback is provided to adjust output based on a manufacturer approved temperature variance – a new feature that is a huge step forward on this thorny issue.

Also part of the project’s remit is the surrounding exterior lighting which creates a unique impression of affluence and awe at the hotel’s arrival. With LED lighting integrated with the custom concrete curb details, there is a low level accent layer of light at the various ground levels of hardscaping. This creates a highlight reminiscent of a racing stripe that is also picked up as curvilinear warm accent lighting that follows the shape of the canopy. This is then supplemented by a series of adjustable recessed 3000K ceramic metal halide PAR 30 downlights to give a warm continuous glow surrounding the outside of the building up to the VIP Entrance.

The VIP Entrance picks up the continuous curvilinear accent and adds subtle layers of accent marking in the hardscaping, while putting light on the vertical walls in a fluid contemporary accent.

The site’s three iconic bridges were lit to emphasise the curvilinear form and add iconic features to the expansive project site. These bridges utilise various highly efficient fluorescent and LED technology integrated into the bridge structure and architectural components, along with conventional adjustable ceramic metal halide sources, with glare protection for the F1 drivers and spectators alike.

In order to accomplish the design goals for the project, a luminaire was developed. “We pushed the requirements of the luminaire to include a high level of durability and craftsmanship, while providing a custom optical assembly in a bespoke luminaire that worked with the project’s curvilinear form,” explains Stacy.  “As the project’s design evolved so did the luminaire design; and vice versa.”

At the start of the project, the luminaire approach had a central point for light distribution that went down and outward. As the tessellation of the structure started to form irregular shapes in the schematic phase of the project, it was tested against the response to the lighting effect. Preliminary lighting studies showed shadowing issues were forming on the glass panels as the structure was increasing with tie lines across the glass panels.

Through these studies, the argument for a fundamental design change in the structure started to evolve. The glass panel cross bars were removed allowing each panel to become a shadow free pixel again.
From this point, the desire to add more visual clarity to the lighting pixels was pushed forward. As this started to evolve so did the design of the luminaire. The luminaire design needed to be thought of in relation to the larger project concept: the gridshell panels create the feel of scales of a skin, and thereby an asymmetrical light distribution, allowing for visual contrast around the gridshell.

The project represents collaboration between many disciplines, among them two primary entities: UK based Cooper Lighting and Enfis Group Plc, a developer and manufacturer of LED lighting systems.

Stacy is grateful for their expertise: “With a project of this complexity and technologically demanding, Cooper came to the table ready to take the volumes of concepts and detailed ideas on the custom luminaire, and was able to interoperate the critical aesthetic issues and high performance technological thinking. This meant lateral leaps on how to deal with heat management and energy efficiency issues through programming, and real time feedback from the Enfis gear. Further, this was in concert with e:cue.”

The desert climate of Abu Dhabi can reach 60°C in the summertime making havoc out of just about every form of light source – incandescent or LED. But as Managing Director of Cooper Lighting,

Gavin Smith, stated, “Right from the beginning we knew that ambient would be a major challenge considering the inherent performance limitations for LED components and driver technology. We carried out numerous studies testing products from some of the world’s major LED manufacturers.” Smith went on to say, “Our collaboration with Enfis solved this problem almost immediately. The Enfis array/driver solutions were the only systems that passed our rigorous environmental chamber trials.”

The ongoing ability of Cooper and Enfis to work as a team in response to the highly complex and challenging environmental needs of the Yas Hotel project is a source of pride at both organisations. “I believe the designers are able to create the lighting effects they originally envisioned for this project due in large part to the ability of Cooper to come through with solutions,” said Smith. “And I also believe Cooper was able to come through with those solutions in large part because of Enfis.”

“The team at Cooper Lighting was great to work with, they have a unique technical acumen for how to drive LEDs, and how to package them in a fixture, and more importantly, how to integrate it all into a unique environment such as this massive structure,” said Shaun Oxenham, Chairman of Enfis. “The result is a truly iconic structure that will be admired and enjoyed for generations to come. It really captures the whole essence of how to use solid-state LED lighting for achieving architectural excellence.”

At the core of the design for the lighting system at Yas was the development of a cutting edge lighting control system. The system, from e:cue, is computer based which contains the capabilities for using project specific media content mapped to an electronic lighting control 3D model, with automation macros.

Each of the gridshell panels were lit with the RGBW LED fixture, which were each independently controlled by e:cue’s Control Server through DMX RDM protocol. 32 e:cue Butler XTs, which are DMX RDM capable, provide bidirectional communication between the LED lighting on the grid-shell, and e:cue’s Control Server for status monitoring of the LEDs.

The system sends status reports to building management and automatically adjusts the intensity of the LEDs to prevent overheating.
The basis for the lighting control system was e:cue’s Lighting Application Suite 5.1 (LAS) running on a Control Server to create stunning lighting effects such as colour-changing lighting sequences, and to play customised three dimensional low-resolution video content on the gridshell.  The LAS software package provided the tools for the complex video pixel mapping on the curvilinear shape of the grid-shell, and software visualisation for offsite programming of the complete lighting design for this 20,000 DMX RDM channel installation. Additionally, the project specific lighting sequences and media files can be uploaded remotely through the Internet, and the content is triggered by a programmed automation based on a matrix of settings triggered through the astronomical clock, daylight sensors, and a touch-screen user interface.

“Working with e:cue has taken the vision and implementation approach of the lighting design team, and allowed it to go beyond box-standard solutions to provide the complex and multi-faceted design and technical lighting control technology that these high-quality, demanding environments require. The project specific Pre-Visualisation abilities of the LAS, on such a complex geometry has allowed us to save weeks of precious time on-site, while understanding basic items such Frame Rates and viewing angles when thinking about the spectators, hotel guests and cameras on Race Day and beyond,” says Stacy.

An estimated worldwide TV audience of 800 million people witnessed the gridshell light show when Sebastian Vettel took the chequered flag to win the Grand Prix.

Stacy is abviously delighted with the results at the end of a long and arduous process. “Waking up the morning after the race and flipping on CNN international, we saw the 15 second commercial by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority that features just the building and our media content. This was a testament to all the hard work, by all those involved, that Abu Dhabi saw this building project as their contemporary icon.”



Project Details
Yas Hotel, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Client: Aldar Properties
Lighting Design: Arup Lighting (New York – lead office: project direction, project management; activity groups for lighting include Amsterdam, London and San Francisco offices; sub-contractor: Tommy Voeten)
Lead Architects: Asymptote Architecture
Local Architects: Dewan Architects & Engineers; Tilke & Partners
Structural Engineers: Dewan Architects & Engineers; Arup
Gridshell Engineers: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner; Waagner-Biro
MEP Engineer: Red Engineering Middle East
Façade Consultants: Front Inc.; Taw & Partner
Gridshell Building Information Modeling Consultant: Gehry Technologies
Lighting Suppliers
Lighting Control: e:cue
Gridshell LED Lighting: Cooper Lighting / Enfis
Local Representative: RDK International


Pics: Bjorn Moerman
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